Destination in sight for Flight Centre's Drupal journey

Travel agency aims to complete transition to open source Web platform by Q1 2014

Brisbane-headquartered travel agency Flight Centre is undergoing a wholesale transition to the open-source Drupal Web platform for its network of websites, which collectively handle millions of page views per week.

The shift, away from IBM Web Content Manager has been underway for about 12 months now, according to Flight Centre's area leader of digital solutions, Jamie Glenn. The travel company is about two-thirds of the way through the transition, Glenn said. The company has around 30 brands and some 60 websites.

"We've done all the simple sites and the more straightforward ones, and we're doing a lot of the core architecture for our more complex sites at the moment," Glenn said.

With some of the bigger sites Flight Centre is doing a "section by section cutover" to Drupal, rather than "a big bang approach."

Related: From zero to hero: Suncorp's Drupal 'leap of faith'

The company was previously using IBM WCM, in conjunction with some "in-house plumbing". Glenn said that IBM had begun moving to integrate WCM more with its WebSphere Portal offering, "and we didn't want to go the way of Portal".

"We looked at upgrading the WCM tool itself and we struggled to do that probably for about six months to a year, and then that drove us to say 'Well we need to move on. The world's moving on.' And we went out and started searching for another tool."

When it came to selecting a new content-management system that would offer increased agility, Flight Centre looked at both proprietary and open source options, testing five different CMSes over a period of six months.

"Open source probably fits more into the culture and the way we run things here, but we did look at some of the commercial packages as well," Glenn said.

The level of support for Drupal in Australia, the size and state of the community around the open source project, and finding a good partner (Acquia, the company founded by Drupal's creator, Dries Buytaert) all helped tip Flight Centre over the edge and choose the CMS.

"We're agile in our way of doing things and happy to rely on the community as much as we are on a particular vendor," Glenn said.

In addition to receiving support from Acquia, Flight Centre drew on local Drupal shop Technocrat for training and architectural guidance. However, most of the transition itself has been handled by the company's in-house Web development team, which has about 40 staff.

"One of the key skills we were also looking for from Acquia was that planning and technical account management role," Glenn said.

"We wanted to make sure the investment decisions we were making were appropriate and in line with the community [so] we didn't set ourselves aside from the open source community or get ourselves into a corner. It's that level of expertise and knowledge that's been really valuable."

Initially there was limited experience of Drupal within Flight Centre's Web development group, but the company has been conducting training in batches of eight or so people.

Glenn said the Flight Centre transition to Drupal should be complete by Q1 2014.

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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